Skip to main content

Full text of "Further Discoveries concerning the Kensington Rune Stone"

See other formats


Early Journal Content on JSTOR, Free to Anyone in the World 

This article is one of nearly 500,000 scholarly works digitized and made freely available to everyone in 
the world byJSTOR. 

Known as the Early Journal Content, this set of works include research articles, news, letters, and other 
writings published in more than 200 of the oldest leading academic journals. The works date from the 
mid-seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. 

We encourage people to read and share the Early Journal Content openly and to tell others that this 
resource exists. People may post this content online or redistribute in any way for non-commercial 

Read more about Early Journal Content at 
journal-content . 

JSTOR is a digital library of academic journals, books, and primary source objects. JSTOR helps people 
discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content through a powerful research and teaching 
platform, and preserves this content for future generations. JSTOR is part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit 
organization that also includes Ithaka S+R and Portico. For more information about JSTOR, please 



In the last issue of the Wisconsin Magazine of History 
I presented an article on the Kensington Rune Stone. After 
that article was in type certain important discoveries were 
made confirming some of the arguments presented and adding 
new light to our understanding of the circumstances imder 
which the events recorded in the inscription transpired. The 
present contribution is for the purpose of recording these dis- 
coveries and bringing the discussion down to date. 

As I shall refer to the text of the inscription a number of 
times in the following article, a translation of it is given below 
for the convenience of the reader. 

Eight Goths and twenty-two Norsemen on (an) exploration-journey 
from Vinland through the western regions. We had camp by two skerries 
one day's journey north from this stone. We were (out) and fished one 
day. When we came home (we) found ten men red with blood and dead. 
Ave Maria! Save (us) from evil! 

(We) have ten of our party by the sea to look after (or for) our 
vessels 14 day journey from this island. Year 1362. 

In my former article I proved that the term "day's jour- 
ney" in the Middle Ages represented a unit or measure of 
distance of approximately eighty miles. Therefore, when the 
rune master in the last sentence says that they were fourteen 
days' journey from the sea, he means that they were 14X80 
miles from the sea, or 1,120 miles, which agrees excellently 
with the actual distance from Kensington to Hudson Bay, the 
nearest "sea."^ 

* Wuconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 176-78. Since writing 
the former article I find that William Hovgaard, professor of Naval Design and 
Construction in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in discussing the 
navigation of the Norsemen has also conclusively shown that a day's sail or day's 
journey, commonly written cUeffr, was used as a unit of distance as described 
above. See his Voyages of the Norsemen to America (New York, 1914), 61-64. 

Further Discoveries 333 

If "day's journey" means about eighty miles in one part 
of the inscription it must have the same meaning when used 
elsewhere in the same inscription. Therefore, when the rune 
master says that the two skerries (marking the camp where 
the massacre of the ten men occurred) lie one "day's journey" 
north of the rune stone, these skerries should be sought for 
about eighty miles north of Kensington. 

On learning the meaning of "day's journey" a few months 
ago I became very curious as to the whereabouts of these 
skerries. If they could be fotmd approximately eighty miles 
north of Kensington, the find would go far toward proving 
the truth of the inscription in that it would prove that the new 
and hitherto unguessed interpretation of "14 day journey" 
was correct. A discovery of these skerries would also lead to 
the discovery of the camp site where the massacre occurred, 
where other remains might be foimd. In October, 1919, 
therefore, I made a trip to Otter Tail and Becker counties, 
Minnesota, and searched all the nxmierous lakes there for sker- 
ries. I am very pleased to say that I foimd them. 

The lakes of Becker County lie in the northern end of the 
beautiful Lake Park Region of Minnesota, studded with 
hundreds of sparkling lakes. I examined all the lakes of 
Becker and northern Otter Tail counties to see if there were 
any skerries. A "skerry" (Scandinavian, shjcer) is a very 
small island of rock or gravel, void of vegetation and lying 
low upon the water. This kind of formation is very rare in 
the Lake Park Region, there being no place rock within the 
entire area. In none of these lakes, except one, were there 
any skerries to be seen. However, in Cormorant Lake, one 
of the largest of them all and lying farthest to the northwest, 
were two unmistakable skerries. No one who has stood upon 
the high hill on the northwestern shore of the lake and has 
seen these two remarkable skerries lying in a straight line 
before him can doubt that these are the right skerries. Nor 
could the rune master have found a better topographical mark 
of identification to describe the location of his camp. 

334 H. R. Holand 

While the skerries can be discerned from diif erent points 
on the shore of the lake, there is only one place from which 
they can be seen prominently. This is the large hill south of 
John Johnson's farmhouse on the northwestern shore of the 
lake. This hill was in olden times covered with an open grove 
of very large trees and was used as a village site by the In- 
dians. They told the first settlers that "this hill had always 
been their home." Many Indian remains have been found 
here. This hill was no doubt the camp site of the twenty 
explorers who in 1362 visited this region. It is almost a hun- 
dred feet high and rises steeply from the margin of the lake. 
The shore is covered with thousands of granite boulders. 

As we were about to leave the stony shore and climb 
directly up this steep hill we noticed near the shore a particu- 
larly large, flat boulder almost overgrown with bushes and 
brambles. In the middle of this stone was a small hole which 
plainly had been bored by human agency. The hole was an 
inch in diameter and three-quarters of an inch deep. As we 
stood pondering upon the significance of this hole another of 
the party called our attention to another large stone close by 
which also had a hole in the center. This second hole was seven 
inches deep and was roughly triangular in shape. A triangu- 
lar stick of wood, with the angles rounded oflf, seven inches 
long, each side measuring one and a quarter inches, would 
just fit the hole. Both of these boulders were about six feet 
in length and somewhat less in width. Their surfaces were 
flat and the insides of the holes were so weathered by the 
action of the elements that they appeared to have been chis- 
eled himdreds of years ago. 

What is the meaning of these strange holes? They could 
not have been intended for purposes of blasting, for the stones 
lie in one of the most inaccessible spots on the shore and 
thousands of similar boulders lie far more conveniently for 
anyone seeking such. Moreover the weathered appearance of 
the holes shows that they were made long before the first 

Further Discoveries 335 

white settlers came here. The holes are plainly prehistoric 
in origin. These holes, bearing plain testimony of the presence 
of man, would be worthy objects of speculation when found 
in any desert place, but appearing as they do on the very spot 
where these explorers of 1362 must have embarked and dis- 
embarked upon the fatal fishing trip they are doubly signifi- 
cant. As a memorial of their presence these boulders are 
second in importance only to the rime stone itself for they 
speak in mute language of the presence of these pre-Colum- 
bian travelers. 

Being a mute testimony it is not easy to read the message 
right, but I would like to make a surmise. Serious deductive 
reasoning should be able to find the correct explanation of 
this faint message of bygone times. My solution is as follows : 

These explorers came to Cormorant Lake and there need 
of food prompted them to go fishing. They had no boat but 
for twenty experienced men the problem of making a raft or 
punt would be simple. This must have been quite large as we 
read that ten men went out fishing. They presimiably desired 
to use the raft more than once. The inscription reads "we 
were (out) and fished one day" — ^which indicates that they 
made a prolonged stay at this camp. Owing to its size they 
could not easily pull the raft up on the stony shore. Some 
other means was therefore needed for anchoring it. If they 
carried no flexible ropes they could not anchor the raft in 
the ordinary fashion ; moreover, the roundish boulders of that 
region are unsuited for anchors. However, necessity is the 
mother of invention. One of the men is set to work to bore 
a hole in an immovable stone on the edge of the beach. He 
makes unsatisfactory progress because some stones are harder 
than others. He therefore leaves this stone after having made 
a hole three-quarters of an inch deep and chooses another large 
boulder near by. In this he chisels a hole seven inches deep 
and, upon second thought, makes the sides triangular. A 
flexible withy of some sort, a vine or birch root is then chosen 

336 H. R. Holand 

and securely wedged into the triangular hole. The other end 
is then tied to the raft which is thus as securely moored to the 
shore as any rope could do it. 

The use of withies for cordage was very common among 
the Scandinavians of the Middle Ages. Such withies also 
entered largely into the construction of their vessels. Accord- 
ing to Professor Hovgaard the heavier timbers of all their 
ocean-going vessels, such as the keel, the frames, and the 
bottom planks, were always fastened together with withies.^ 
This gave a greater flexibility to the vessel than was possible 
with iron bolts. So deft were they in the manipulation of 
withies that sometimes large ocean-going vessels were secure- 
ly joined together without any iron bolts, nails, or rivets in 
their construction, withies and wooden plugs taking the place 
of these.' Even at the present time the Norsemen make large 
use of withies for binding purposes. I have before me a sheep 
collar which a fanner of Norway fashioned for me out of two 
birch twigs a few years ago in five minutes' time. The ends 
are shaped into a very serviceable snap and ring ; the collar, 
which is very flexible, is so strong that I was assured that a 
horse could not pull it in two with a straight pull. This sheep 
collar shows that birch twigs one-quarter inch in diameter 
when twisted can be bent to an arc of a radius equal to their 
diameter without breaking. 

These observations are sufficient, I believe, to show that it 
would be a simple and natural thing for these explorers to 
make a stout rope out of withies with which to tie their raft. 
Nor would the problem of wedging these into the anchor stone 
present any difficulty. The withies used in the construction 
of their vessels were wedged in so securely that they withstood 
the heaviest buff'etings of the sea. The same principle is used 
nowadays by builders in elevating large stones. A small hole 

^ Op. eit., 52-S3. 

'See account in Flatey Annals; also Annals Begii and Odda Annals under 
date of 1189, telling of Asmund Kastanraste's vessel built in Greenland which 
contained only one iron bolt. 

Further Discoveries 337 

is chiseled in the middle of the stone; a wedge called a "lewis" 
is inserted ; and the stone is safely lifted to the desired height. 

These anchor stones are at present lying about five or six 
feet above the level of the lake ; this indicates that the lake 
level in 1362 may have been four or five feet higher than it is 
at present. It could not have been much higher as this lake 
at high water has an outlet both at the north and at the south. 
Cormorant Lake happens to be the highest of all the lakes in 
that region, being the uppermost source of Pelican River. 
But even if the lake were only five feet higher than at present, 
both of the skerries would be under water. Does this then 
mean that in 1362, when the water presumably was five feet 
higher than it now is, these skerries did not exist as 
skerries but only as reefs? Not necessarily. The great mass 
of boulders which are strewn around the shore indicates that 
these skerries formerly were much bigger and higher than 
now. The nature of these skerries is such that their height 
above the water is determined by the moving ice which shoves 
back and forth hke a huge planer each spring. They consist 
of boulders of all sizes which are cemented together with sand 
and gravel. Let us assume that the skerries formerly were 
five feet higher than now and that the water fell five feet. 
Little by little as the water fell the rains would wash out and 
erode the sand and gravel which bind the boulders together 
until finally the moving icefloes would get a grasp upon them 
and carry them away. In this manner, therefore, the tops of 
the skerries would diminish as the lake level lowered. 

Cormorant Lake is the first lake of any size that these 
explorers would come to from the northwest, the probable 
direction of their approach. After a very long and wearisome 
march over the vast Red River Valley prairie, where game 
would be scarce and hard to approach, the wooded hills and 
beautiful expanse of Cormorant Lake would look very 
pleasant to them and invite them to a long stay. This is also 
one of the largest of these lakes, with many coves and head- 

338 H. B. Holand 

lands. This explains why the ten men who were out fishing 
heard or saw nothing of the tragedy that had overtaken their 
comrades until they returned and "found ten men, red with 
blood and dead." Even in the brief words upon the stone we 
can recognize the horrified surprise which met them and which 
causes the rune master to exclaim, "Ave Maria! Save (us) 
from evil!" 

There can be no doubt that the survivors gave themselves 
time to bury their dead in a decent fashion. The next step 
in this investigation is therefore to fimd this burial spot. As 
we stood upon the hill of the camp site, Mr. Johnson pointed 
out a small knoll about sixty rods back from the lake and 
said: "Someone is surely buried over there." 


"Because there are several sunken graves on that knoll." 

We went over to the knoll and found that there really were 
a number of "sunken graves" on the knoll. They were not 
hollows caused by uprooted trees, except in one instance, but 
looked just like neglected graves. Whether these are of red 
or white men's origin I do not know. The knoll has never 
been plowed as it lies just inside the bounds of a piece of 
stony woodland. I made no excavations and requested Mr. 
Johnson not to disturb the mound until it can be excavated in a 
scientific manner. This will probably be done next spring.